Monday, July 29, 2013

Cycling in the 70s: Inn to Inn in Vermont

My wife and I have always enjoyed active recreation. While dating, we often spent our Saturday cycling 15 to 25 miles west from Boston, seeking out the best ice cream stands in rural Massachusetts. A year or two after getting married, we took a vacation in Yosemite National Park which involved a week of backpacking. And in 1979, five years after getting married, our vacation was a week-long cycling trip in Vermont.

The trip we took was a package deal organized by a consortium of inns in Vermont. (Unless I am mistaken, this same consortium, lead by the Churchill House Inn shown below, is still organizing these tours.) Each night we spent at an inn which, in addition to providing a beautiful and comfortable place to spend the night, provided dinner when we arrived and breakfast the next morning.

Of course, much about the trip has been lost to the mists of time. This blog post was created to a small extent from my fading memories and mostly from a set of photographs from the trip. Using pictures showing the names of inns which still exist, a picture of a rural road sign, the sign at the top of a mountain pass, and a city limits sign, I was able to determine that we rode mostly through national forests in the southern half of the Green Mountains of Vermont.

The inns where we stayed varied enormously (which was deliberate and part of the charm of the trip.) The pictures above show inns which were bed and breakfast-like, having the appearance of a traditional Federal-period home. The picture immediately below is what was probably the most casual of the inns at which we stayed, which had the feel of a ski lodge. The picture after that shows an Inn that had more of the feel of a resort.

This trip took place during the summer of 1979. In 1980, my wife and I completed our training, started our first jobs, and each took on the responsibility of setting up, funding, staffing, and running a research laboratory. That same year, we purchased our first house. A year after that, we had our first son. Thus, as unfortunate as it was, it is perhaps not surprising that it took 29 years before we could manage another bicycling vacation. And with that, I will end this post with a few additional pictures from this trip.

For those new to this blog, each week I am posting an update of my training results; see my previous posts for explanations of my aerobic training program, MAF tests, and this graph. My apologies for not posting a MAF test last week, I simply forgot.

As described in an earlier post, I am currently looking at this data attempting to determine if the results decrease for a while after the peak (corresponding to my 200K brevet in May) and then start to increase again, or if they have hit a plateau. This will help me determine what the MAF test actually measures. Although the data looks a lot like a plateau to me, I think it is still too early to judge. The problem is as it has always been, there is a lot of day to day variation ("noise") which makes it difficult to see a trend. Time will tell, and when it does, I will share my conclusions in a blog post.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cycling in the 70s: Boston to Montreal

This is me with the same Bianchi Specialissima I have today. Note that fenders and the heavier load than I carried on the Mountain Loops - I am growing up. Note also that I was riding in jeans, I used to do that. I still have the jersey in this picture (which is wool and was very comfortable), but there is no chance I can get into it (I've tried). The bandana on my head (still no helmet) was my minor excursion into radical symbolism, a symbol that managed to upset a number of people, my future father in law included.

As best I can tell, the last major bicycle tour I rode in California was my ride to the Great Western Bike Rally in 1969. If my aging memory is to be trusted, I continued to train with the Berkeley Wheelmen in 1970 and 1971. In 1971, I moved from California to Boston to attend graduate school. Some time in 1972 or shortly thereafter, I biked from Boston to Montreal, about 350 miles, with two companions. One was a roommate and close friend, identified hereafter as "D", and the other a friend of his who I had not previously met and whose name cannot recall, identified hereafter as "Y" (because I have already used "X").

"D", my good friend and roommate.

I can't completely remember how or why this trip came together. The one part I remember was that the choice of our destination was determined by my infatuation with a young woman,  a fellow grad student, who was from Montreal and was home at the time visiting her parents. If that inspired the trip or only influenced its destination, I have no recollection.

"Y", "D"'s friend.

This trip took place in the 1970s, a decade that Grant Pederson argues was dramatically more bicycle oriented than the 1960s. As it happens, that didn't affect my perception of the tour much; as far as I was concerned, this tour might have been titled: "Mountain Loop - Eastern Edition."  That said, the impact of the 70s vs the 60s might have been that this trip happened at all. In the 1960s, I did all the riding I did because, over the years, I had assembled a circle of like-minded friends with whom to ride - the Modesto Roadmen. By the 1970s, it had become possible to put together an ad hoc group of cyclotourists from among my acquaintances.

Scenery along the way.

I wish I could remember how we selected our route (or what route we selected.) I remember going through New Hampshire for part of the ride. I don't even remember how long it took us. I can distinctly remember two campsites along the way, one rather posh one in New Hampshire, and one in Quebec which featured a disco that kept us up all night, so I assume we were on the road for at least three or four days.

Our campsite

The above picture shows one of our campsites. Unlike the Mountain Loop, we stayed in legal campgrounds at least some of the time, and we carried tents. I also remember "feasting" on Hamburger Helper, which means we brought cooking gear.

A bit of yard art encountered along the way.
In Montreal, instead of trying to camp, we stayed at a Youth Hostel. When it was time to leave Montreal, my girlfriend asked me to accompany her back to Boston in her car rather than bicycle home, and how could I say no? My companions "D" and "Y" were not ecstatic about being abandoned, but being guys, they understood about girlfriends, and they managed to bike home safely on their own. As I said earlier, "Y" was not a friend of mine (though we got along great on the ride) and I didn't stay in touch with him, but "D" did forgive me and served as my best man when I finally married this same girlfriend, so all's well that ends well.

"D" and "Y", in street clothes, standing in front of the Youth Hostel in Montreal, where we stayed. Note the CYH emblem in the window just above "Y"'s head.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Overtraining and MAF Tests

As this picture foreshadows, three out of the four pictures in this post have nothing to do with overtraining or MAF tests; they are in here to break up the tedium all this text. This is a photograph I took of a particularly interesting sky when I was out bicycling with my wife.

I don't get very many comments on my blog, but I love it when I do. Back in March, Michael (a fellow RUSA member) commented on one of my posts on training. He mentioned that his training regimen involves a lot of riding; his training rides are sometimes 200 miles long! His comment raised an obvious question in my mind: "Could I be training harder? How do I decide?" In my youth, these would not have even been questions, it went without saying that I should train as hard as my schedule and enthusiasm allowed. Since age 55, however, I have found that sometimes, the harder I train, the worse I do, a phenomenon known as "overtraining".

Overtraining (which I post about a lot) is a widely recognized if somewhat controversial topic in both the fitness community in general and the cycling community in particular. The controversies include how it is defined, how frequently it occurs (e.g. is it a rare or a common disorder among athletes), how serious it is, and what the symptoms are. As regular readers of this blog know, the last has been particularly vexing for me. Of course, the core symptom of overtraining is fairly obvious; training more and performing less well. However, that is a fairly late symptom, one that could have causes other than overtraining (e.g. illness, loss of motivation), and one that can be difficult to measure and interpret (e.g. if the ride with the lower performance is on a more difficult course or with stronger companions, it may not be meaningful.) For all these reasons, I am always looking for additional symptoms that are more objective and which provide early warning signs of overtraining. As I have mentioned in previous posts, however, most if not all of the early warning signs for overtraining commonly suggested (e.g. increased resting heart rate) are not, for various reasons, useful to me. The symptoms I am left with, for now at least, are how I feel while riding (including tiredness or aching in my legs), how I feel generally (e.g. depression, lack of motivation, increase in the number or severity of illnesses), and MAF test results, described below.

Another picture whose only purpose is to break up text. This is an old three speed I inherited about 35 years ago when I friend of mine moved to California from Boston and didn't think the bike was worth moving. He was probably right, but being the pack-rat I am, I have tried to keep it working. It's primary virtue is that it looks as bad as it is, making it fairly unlikely to be stolen. I use it for utility trips, shown here at a grocery store. Groceries, including the flowers peeking out the top, are in the backpack.

MAF Test Definition

Very briefly, a MAF (Maximum Aerobic Fitness) test involves riding 45 minutes on a fixed course (the Rice Track) at a fixed heart rate (130 to 140 beats per minute) and recording my speed. According to dogma (see below), this speed should increase month to month during optimal training but should fall during overtraining. As compared to generally observing "performance getting worse", results in a MAF test should be less susceptible to variations such as those resulting from course variations (due to the fixed course) and motivation (due to the fixed heart rate). Unfortunately, there are still many factors other than training and overtraining that that can affect a MAF test score, such as wind, temperature, mild (subclinical) illness, short term tiredness, etc. To a significant extent, these factors can be dealt with by averaging the results of multiple MAF tests. The more serious question, however, concerns the basis for my belief in the validity of the MAF tests; what is the evidence that they are a good indicator of training and overtraining?

Final irrelevant picture. Houston does not have nearly the bike culture of cities like Boston or San Francisco, but we do have the odd fixie. There is a "foodie" market in Houston, Central Market, which attracts the same demographic who rides fixies, and when I shop there, I typically see a couple like this one.

Validity of the MAF Test

I encountered the MAF test in Dr. Phillip Maffetone's book "Endurance Training and Racing". I recently re-read this book to refresh my understanding of the program and re-reading definitely changed my understanding.
  1. Dr. Maffetone is explicit and adamant that what he calls his "maximum aerobic heart rate" can only be determined by his formula of 180 beats per minute minus your age plus up to 5 beats per minute or minus up to 10 beats per minute depending on training history and health status; he specifically rejects the kind of personalization of heart rate that I have done.
  2. Dr. Maffetone does not believe in periodization. His ideal training program consists of training at maximum aerobic heart rate for three to four months and then adding racing to the mix through the racing season or until MAF test results start to decline.
  3. Except for recommending that all training be done at his "maximum aerobic heart rate", Dr. Maffetone does not provide any detailed training plans. For example, he does not recommend any specific length for training rides; I suppose that he would argue that the length of training rides should depend on the event for which you are training. In particular, Dr. Maffetone does not recommend that training rides be the same 45 minute length as MAF tests, and contrawise, he recommends only performing one MAF test a month.
Thus, it is now time for me to unreservedly confess that my current training does not follow that given in Dr. Maffetone's "Endurance Training and Racing" and that I do not, at present, plan to change my training to match the book. Thus, there are two reasons the MAF test might not be a good measure for overtraining:

  1. The claims made in "Endurance Training and Racing" for the MAF test are not accurate.
  2. I have modified how I use the MAF test to an extent that it no longer works.
The response to both concerns is the same, however: to test the MAF test. This is what attracted me to it in the first place, that Dr. Maffetone made explicit, testable predictions for the MAF test, and if those predictions are not met, then the MAF test is invalid either intrinsically or because I have modified it. The problem is that there are too many different ways that the results of the MAF test can be interpreted. I think it will be a long time before the weight of the evidence is sufficient to convince me if it is working or not, but thinking about it is fun. Here are my latest MAF test results:

The vertical axis shows the average speed as measured by my Garmin 500 during a 45 minute MAF test, done at a heart rate of 130 to 140 beats per minute. The tics on the horizontal axis are one day per tic. The graph starts at the beginning of December, 2012 with the Base phase of my training. At the beginning of February, marked by a red arrow, I switched to the Build phase of my training. The second arrow marks May 18, 2013, the day I rode my 130 mile brevet. Since then, I have returned to Base training. The different phases of training are described in the text of this post.

If I assume that riding the brevet in March pushed me into overtraining (see below), the MAF test results would appear to support that; my MAF test speeds increased all through training and then fell after the brevet, perhaps leveling off the last week or so. I am very curious what the results will do moving forward. Right now, I am training at a fairly low level, doing daily 45 minute MAF tests and the occasional 30 to 40 mile longer ride. If my MAF test results continue to remain level and only increase when I resume longer rides (up to 90 or 100 miles), then I will assume that MAF test results are a measure of fitness and are not useful to measure overtraining. If the MAF test results start to increase again before I resume harder training, then I will conclude that the reason they fell after my last brevet was overtraining, not reduced fitness, giving me confidence that MAF test results are another useful indictator of overtraining. Stay tuned.

Other Symptoms of Overtraining

The day after my second (and most recent) brevet, I was tired but felt pretty good; I went on a 17 mile social ride with my wife. Over the next few days, I had trouble sleeping at night. Five days later, my MAF test results were almost as high as they had been before the ride but I was feeling tired so cut back on training. As the days went on, I felt more and more tired rather than recovering as evidenced both by general lethargy and a soreness in my legs that would not go away. Two and a half weeks after the brevet, I developed an acute illness that kept me in bed for two days and then settled into a chronic cold from which I am only now recovering, 8 weeks later. For some months, I have suffered from sciatica which is usually fairly well controlled. At about the same time I developed my cold, my sciatica became dramatically worse.

Are these symptoms diagnostic for overtraining? Are my illnesses a coincidence, bad luck, or the result of the stress of the brevet? Although I don't know for sure, most of the training books include advice to the effect that you should "listen to your body", and I feel like the message from my body is quite clear. Any one of the symptoms (illness, tiredness, sleep disorder) might be do to something other than overtraining, but when considered together, the aggregate of these symptoms convinces me that I am overtrained. When you put that together from the results of the MAF test which started declining at the same time, the picture is consistent, evidence that the MAF test is one more indicator of overtraining. Because the effects of overtraining appear to be delayed by at least a week or two from the event the caused them (e.g. the brevet), it is hard to be sure when they started, but the combination of all the data suggests to me that I did not develop overtraining from my training but only when I rode the brevet itself.

Plans for the Future

Last October I outlined a training plan for the years 2013 and 2014 (here and here). These plans involved training for a brevet in May, resting for the month of June, doing base training for the months of July, August, and September, build training in October, November and December, and then a 200K, 300K, 400K and 600K brevet series in January, February, March and April. Although I am on schedule to complete training plan, because my second brevet appears to have taken much more out of me than I had hoped, I no longer think it will work; I think any brevet longer 200K or 300K may be impossible. The unfortunate implication is that Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP, 1200K) would lie forever out of reach. On the one hand, I worry that, by being overcautious, I might miss the one opportunity I have left to participate in the event of a lifetime. On the other, I worry If a single 200K brevet leaves me this exhausted, how can I hope to go on from there to 300K, 400K and 600K brevets, much less the 1200K of PBP?

To both maximize the chance of being able to ride PBP (as small as that might be) and to minimize the chance of overtraining, I am revising my training plan based on what I learned from this latest brevet. I am hypothesizing that the training in preparation for my last brevet did not result in overtraining. Thus, the experiment I am considering is to increase training before my next brevet so that the brevet is less of a "shock". Looking at a calendar and at how I am feeling today, I am considering attempting another 200K brevet on November 9. Previously, I have worked up to a long training ride of 90 miles to prepare for a 200k (124 mile) brevet, training to 73% of the distance of the brevet. This time, I am planning to work up to a long training ride of 110 miles, almost 90% of a 200K brevet, making the brevet more like one more long training ride than a challenge. My hope is that as a result, I will not be so exhausted after the brevet. Assuming I feel OK after the November brevet, I would ride a 200K permanent in December to maintain my conditioning for the brevet series starting in January. My further hope is that by doing more training for the November 200K and a second 200K in December, the first ride of the brevet series, a 200K in January, will not be exhausting and that, on the other hand, by doing three 200K brevets, I will be maximally prepared to attempt a 300K brevet in February. I think it would be premature to make any predictions about what comes after that.

The other possibility, of course, is that all this training will leave me totally exhausted, unable to even attempt a brevet series in 2014. The reason I am willing to make this gamble is that I am pretty sure what I am doing now will not work and so there is little to loose. In any case, I am likely to learn something about my capabilities from this experiment that might allow me to either complete longer rides or at least come to peace with my limitations.

What Others are Posting

The RadioShack professional cycling team posted an interesting article on the Science of Recovery.

Joe Friel has an excellent post on the increased difficulty older riders have recovering from hard training.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cycling in the 60s: Conclusions

A group shot of a Modesto Roadmen ride in the Spring of 1967. This picture does not include everyone who participated in the ride, but even so it is obvious that this represents a significant increase in membership for the club. The big news, of course, is concentrated towards the right side of the picture, five young women (creating a cognitive dissonance with the name of the club). Despite being three years away from the magic date of 1970, the Modesto Roadmen had gained social acceptance. I cannot name most of the people in the picture, but front and center, playing the ham as usual, is "Terry". Other old faces in this picture are "James", "SD", and "JC". I was there, but on the other side of the camera.

I began my series, "Cycling in the 60s", with this quote from Grant Pederson:
"In the mid-‘60s, nobody over 12 bought or rode bikes ... in 1970, teenagers didn’t ride bikes. (if you were the exception, allow yourself a proud, private moment, and please don’t write demanding a retraction—because the statement is largely true.)" - Grant Pederson, Rivendell Reader #42
When I used that quote I was not disputing it, despite launching a series of six posts about the cycling I did before 1970. As I said then and confirm now, these posts are my "proud [if not so private] moment". In 1971, Time Magazine had an article on the then current "bicycle shortage" reporting that 1971 was the first year since the 1890s that the number of adult bicycles sold in the US approached half the total of bicycles sold, that the total number of bicycles sold in 1971 was the highest in history up until then, and that this represented a doubling in bicycles sales in just one year. According to the National Bicycle Dealers Association, more bikes were sold in the US in 1973 (15,200,000) than have ever been sold before or since. I recently purchased the book "The Evolution of American Bicycle Racing" from whence I obtain the following quote: "The 1970s was a watershed decade for American bicycle racing." There is no doubt that there was an explosion in US cycling in the 1970s leading to the vibrant and significant cycling community we have today, a community which would have been beyond the wildest dreams of the Modesto Roadmen.

1) As you compare this picture to the next two, note that there seemed to be two styles of Berkeley Wheelmen jerseys in play. 2) I think this is the first example of a hard helmet AND the first example of a rear view mirror I ever saw. I almost missed this because neither looks remarkable today, but back in the day, I think this guy was unique. 3) The bike he is strapping to the top of his VW beetle is yet another example of the ubiquitous Bianchi Specialissima.

And yet, bicycling was happening in the 1960s. The Amateur Bicycle League of America was running bicycle races. Cardiologists were organizing bicycle rallys. The American Youth Hostels were sending bicycle tourists to Europe. And some of us, a small percentage but significant in absolute numbers, were riding our bikes to school, around town, for fun, into the mountains for days at a time. Were we a precursor to the magic 70s or were we an irrelevant offshoot? I have no idea, I can only report what I did and saw. Really, all of this was just an excuse to share a few of my memories and photographs of cycling from almost 50 years ago, and perhaps to document part of the history of The Modesto Roadmen, a truly wonderful and unique bicycle club and an example of adolescent energy, ingenuity, and self reliance at its very best.

This guy was the president of the Berkeley Wheelmen while I was a member and was actually a very serious guy. Due to a stint in England, he knew more about bicycle racing than any of the rest of us and took seriously his role as a mentor. I guess he didn't want his picture taken and so got weird. Remember that, if you get weird when someone takes your picture, you may be sorry 43 years later. 

Other than the first, the pictures in this post are of The Berkeley Wheelmen, another superb and historically important bicycle racing club, the one I trained and raced with during my four years of college, 1967-1971, and my less extensive coverage of them reflects only the photographs I happen to be able to find all these many years later.

This guy was perhaps the fastest cyclist in the club during the time I belonged. The Berkeley Wheelmen was a haven for a variety of nutritional theories. My job in the club was to publish the newsletter, and I remember publishing, over several issues, a heated debate as to the best pre-race breakfast. This guy ate only raw food.

I have one more bit of cycling history to share before I will have exhausted my meager resources, two long rides I took during the 1970s, and will take these up in future posts. Before I do that, however, I will finally return to MAF tests and brevet training in my next post.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Cycling in the 60s: The Great Western Bicycling Rally

The Great Western Bicycle Rally was first held in 1965 and has been held every year since. That is 49 bike rallies! It was originally organized by Dr. Clifford Graves, a cardiologist from Southern California. In the 1960s, a number of cardiologists were starting to advocate the benefits of aerobic exercise in the prevention of heart disease, and Dr. Graves was particularly active and well known in the cycling community. Apparently, I first went to this rally in its second year, in 1966, but I have no photographs or memories to confirm that. The only thing I have is the patch pictured above. At first I thought I might have picked that patch up at a later rally, but I was chatting with my friend Peter1 and he tells me I went in 1966, though he did not. I definitely went in 1968 and 1969 and I have the pictures to prove it, so apparently I attended this rally three times. However, due to a lack of anything to show for it, this will be the last I say about 1966 rally.

Both the 1968 and 1969 rallies were held in Atascadero, California in March of those years. I have not been able to find any records of how many people attended these rallies. Forty people attended the first rally in 1965 and 1270 the 13th rally in 1977, so your interpolation is as good as mine. The history of this rally reads:
"The early Rally format followed a basic two day program. Friday evening was a time to watch movies, and to renew old acquaintances. Hostel facilities were usually provided in local high school gymnasiums. Saturday’s activities included a long, short, or medium bicycle ride to a local picnic area, followed by a picnic, and then return ride to headquarters. After showers, etc. a Saturday evening banquet was featured. Typically, Sunday’s activities included a short ride, or a for those competitively inclined…. a Velocio Day Hill climb, with prizes for the quickest in several age groups. Early Rally fees were $.50 per person."
...and this matches my memory. (By the way, registration for the 2013 rally was $60 with extra charges for some events.)

In 1968 and 1969, I was a student at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the Berkeley Wheelmen bike club. However, the Berkeley Wheelmen was pretty much a pure racing club and did not attend The Great Western Bike Rally, so both years I returned to Modesto and attended with the Modesto Roadmen.


In 1968, I drove it back to Modesto, picked up some of the attending Roadmen, and then we drove to the rally. As best I can tell by looking at the pictures, there were four to six of us in attendance; me, "Terry", "James", "F", and perhaps one or two others.

Modesto Roadmen arriving at the rally. From left to right are "Terry", an unknown cyclist probably not a Modesto Roadmen, "F", and "James".

On the right, all in red, is Edifus, the friend I made touring Europe the year before.
The group ride.

This was a family event as illustrated by this rider.
Regrouping for Lunch at the half way point of the group ride.
A penny-farthing rider, being silly. As you can be by the second penny-farthing behind him, he was not alone.

The Modesto Roadmen packing up my 1950 Dodge to head home.


In 1969, we decided to bicycle to the rally. I drove to Modesto and then cycled with the Roadmen from there to the rally in Atascadero, a distance of about 200 miles. I am not sure how long we took, but there was at least one overnight during the trip. There were at least seven of us on the ride: me, "Terry", "James", "F", someone I will refer to as "JC", someone I will refer to as "RF", and someone whose name I cannot remember who I will refer to as "X". We split up on the way home, "X" and I rode Highway 1 north to Berkeley where I retrieved my car and drove him back to Modesto, the rest returned the way they came, over the Coast Range mountains to the Central Valley, and then North to Modesto. "X" was a very strong rider and I was feeling particularly strong as well so we rode very fast up and down the rolling hills of Highway 1. Presumably as a result, I seriously strained a tendon in my right knee, an injury which bothers me to this day.

The Modesto Roadmen, resting on the road towards the Great Western Bike rally. Left to right are "RF" (barely visible), "James", "Terry", "JC", "X", and "F". Note the Version 2.0 Modesto Roadmen jersey being worn by "Terry". I had completely forgotten about this jersey until I started scanning old pictures about a year ago, it is a regular, professional jersey which apparently we had made.

Camping in a city park overnight on the way to the rally.

"Terry" and "X" at the rally with other riders in the background.


1) Peter and I have gone on a second ride this June after our first ride back in April. We are now averaging a ride every 18 to 19 years, up from our previous average of one ride every 37 years. It was at this second ride we discussed the 1966 Great Western Bicycling Rally.